Guest Blog — Two Reports from Telluride, Colorado

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Colorado’s epic winter is driving a renaissance of sorts. All over the state, skiers are nailing lines of the high peaks and ridges that sometimes go years without a descent. More, they’re doing numerous first descents as well. Here is some stoke from Telluride. First a report from relative newcomer to the scene Jason Troth (who’s a friend of mine). Below that, a fine personal view from long-time Telluride ski alpinist Josh Geetter, who describes a near-death epic and his subsequent renewal. (Note, none of these photos were taken by me, but they’re branded as WildSnow as we do with all images here, to reduce the incidence of blog content theft.)

Lou,
So good to see you and the family got to the Alps. Looks wonderful, keep it up!!

I’ve been wanting to send you pics of some of the great Telluride routes and locals that I’ve been fortunate to get to know this year. Telluride has a very interesting ski culture. It is as diverse as any that I have seen, primarily because of the simple lift accessed backcountry access off the ridge of Gold Hill. I have witnessed entire parties of 15 skiing into the “Creek” with no gear, no guide, no clue what is below them and minimal skiing ability. At the other end of the spectrum, I have witnessed what are certainly the most aggressive, skilled and determined backcountry crews I’ve seen anywhere.

The main players have been in the Creek for over twenty years now and they work together like family to make sure the lines are getting skied/controlled
through the storm cycles. I’m just fortunate to get in there myself on occasion, thanks to their years of “work.” Below is a personal take, for excellent details about the amazing skiing around here check out ski alpinist Andy Sawyer’s article from the Telluride Watch newspaper.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Josh Geetter getting after it in the crux of the line, “Homers Hairy Banana”

Dynafit backcountry skiing.
My tracks of the first Snowboard descent of “Homers Hairy Banana” I did when I was up there with Josh.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Josh, exiting the Hairy Banana with style.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Telluride’s finest looking on.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Into the shaft! I completed the first snowboard descent of this line with Gabe, a fellow sideways shredder, at the end of March with 15 inches of champagne powder.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
The entrance to “The Elevens” Skied by Rick and Hymie mid-winter.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
And let’s see if we can slip an old-school telemarker by Lou: This is Haime Palmer dropping the ridge headed towards “The Y” in classic form: Skinny skis, Wool pants, and leather boots….All season and every season. (He skied all 12 months last year!) Come to think of it, I think I saw a picture somewhere of Lou himself in a similar getup — though it’s from 30 years ago. Some things change, some stay the same. Whatever, they sure get after it here in the old mining town.

From Josh Geetter:

On March 22nd or 23rd of 2003 myself and Lance McDonald dropped into the “Grandfather” (Gfthr) couloir on Little Wasatch West Face. It was to be the third or fourth descent, and I would do the first tele-gear descent. We were already trusted friends & ski partners since 1981-2 season, and had done a lot of “extreme” skiing together. We had also been to the Gfthr twice before, and backed off. This time we felt confident of everything except the “Oblivion Bowl” which threatens the lower Gfthr. Feeling that statistically it wouldn’t cut in the few minutes we were exposed, we went for it.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Oblivion Bowl as it appears this spring, it feeds into the Grandfather. If you look close you can see Geetter’s tracks.

After leap frogging several pitches down we came to the intersection where it fell on me to “spot” while Lance skied. A few minutes later, while Lance had his skis off and was downclimbing around a chockstone, the Oblivion let loose. I screamed “Slide!” repeatedly. Lance heard me & sunk his ice axes, but to no avail. He was swept 100 feet towards the rappel, then 100ft over the rappel, then another 600ft down the chute & out onto the apron. He sustained multiple injuries, but was alive.

I skied down to the rappel hoping he just might be clinging on. To my horror he was gone. The anchors had been swept by the slide. I used 2 pitons, an ice screw, some nuts and my skis & poles to anchor myself to a slightly overhanging rock on the other side of the couloir. Helicopter rescue ensued, as hundreds of people had seen the entire shebang from the ski area. After they got Lance, Tom Sharp (pilot) & Brian O’Neill (rope man) tried to long line me a pack with a rope for the rappel. No go despite their life risking efforts.

I spent the night self rescuing up the chute, down LaJunta basin, across to Ballard & down to Bear Creek road. It was like an Indiana Jones flick! A horror show of outa the fry pan & into the fire & back again. That’s a whole story in itself.

Five years elapsed, and other than many descents of the “Why” couloir, an aborted descent of the “Oblivion Bowl,” and Peter Inglis’ astonishing solo ascent/descent of “Heaven Elevens in 2005? …nobody skied Wasatch West Face.

Enter 2007-2008 season. As the snow came in deep and stable I saw everything taking shape. I skied everything in “The Creek” every day early season. By December I started going “Long.” I skied Delta, San Joaquin, Wasatch N Face, LaJunta via Baker Steve chute to Jackass, Bridal Veil and out past the power plant & falls solo one day. I soloed the San Joaquin early & skied it a number of times.

Then, I saw that Little Wasatch W Face was probably coming into shape. I soloed a line on the South end of the West Face in mid January. Then Rick Willis and I skied “Homer’s Hairy Banana” at the South Edge of the West face. This hadn’t been skied in 12yrs. Then I skied the “Why” solo. Next I dropped “Heaven Eleven’s” with Peter Inglis. This broke open the face, and word got out amongst those who cared to know.

I was working my way back to the Grandfather. This was my private affair, but now, due to full view from the ski area, and my picking away at the face almost daily, it became very public. I moved quickly and soloed the Oblivion Bowl which dropped me into the GFTHR for the first time in 5yrs. I soloed the “Oblivion” again on a stormy day when no-one saw. Then, almost 5 years to the day, Lance & I closed the book on the Gfthr. We skied it w/o incident approx March 20, 2008 with two rappels. I repoeated it three more times in the next two weeks until I’d done it w/o rappels.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Josh Geeter, (The dark spot) rapping down “The Grandfather” on his late January solo descent. This was the first descent of Grandfather in five
years, after his partner survived a scary 800ft fall in the couloir. Josh’s return this season opened the flood gates for multiple teams of skilled skiers to repeat the feat.

I have felt sooo comfortable on the face this year “billy goating” around up there, and I continued skiing all the lines: North Y Couloir, The Why with a variation, Oblivion, Banana & Elevens repeats, and The “V” coulior until I’d skied everything which has ever been skied there.

This is “ski mountaineering art” at its height. I do it for & with Love. I aspire to ski the most elegant lines, leaving gorgeous, impermanent sketches with my tracks. I’ve been so blessed by mountains worldwide to have loved them and survived. Last day of the lift served season I gave quiet thanks in the Creek to Wasatch W Face for allowing me this expression of love, devotion and life.

Now there are several un-skied lines which the off season may allow a passage or two, and I’m there.

Josh

Comments

13 Responses to “Guest Blog — Two Reports from Telluride, Colorado”

  1. Jason April 10th, 2008 2:12 pm

    Reading both stories, but especially Josh’s was a great reminder of the spirituality of being in the mountains, and why it’s so important for me to go to “church” regularly to feed my soul.

    Thank you for the eloquent prose and for sharing such intimate memories with us.

  2. Haille Skilasse April 10th, 2008 4:00 pm

    YES YES! This is what I am talking about. Call it a serious adrenaline addiction, soul skiing, church, a perfect meditation, the highest high, crack for adventure junkies, another fix, true love, the gift that keeps on giving… YES YES YES! A completely different animal than the pro ski phenom. Don’t call it freeskiing- just call it skiing.

  3. Lou April 10th, 2008 4:18 pm

    Indeed, we need to keep a balance here!

  4. Mr. Harald April 10th, 2008 4:58 pm

    wow

  5. Joel April 10th, 2008 6:43 pm

    Oh my god! cheers my man, cheers.

  6. yurtmiester April 10th, 2008 9:11 pm

    All hail Haime!!!
    Legendary ski bum(which I believe is a endangered subspecies).
    He must be the last hold out on leathers. I bet he’s dressed head to toe out of the “free box”. Skiing gear folks thought they had thrown away after the ski-swap.
    Thanks Haime for preserving a frugal spirit of glisse!
    Prooving once again, it’s the pilot not the gear……

  7. ethank April 10th, 2008 9:58 pm

    Springtime in the rockies! As I look out the window into my porch light it is still dumping copious amounts of pow. I skied another knee+deep line today that normally at this time of year would not be in shape and I come home and read here about Colorado hardcores gettin after it in the San Juans. Take note neighbors and friends of the high country: forget about all the industry/pro/gearhead/brodown new ski culture phenom and grab skis and go get it! We are experiencing a special ski season and it is only getting better, so let the Telluride boys be an inspiration. Go ski that line you have always looked at, go hike your ass off, challenge yourself and be safe. It doesnt matter what kind of boots, bindings, or boards your on this is what its all about Lou!

  8. Lou April 11th, 2008 8:07 am

    Yes!

  9. Simon April 11th, 2008 11:13 am

    Looks like the best of times :)

  10. Chase April 12th, 2008 7:20 am

    Boys and Girls,
    This is why we live in the moutains. This kind of
    winter we are having brings out the serious ski
    bum in all of us. I will be skiing till all the snow is
    gone and that won’t be till end of July. Then there
    is always South America.

  11. Bill Hunt April 29th, 2008 2:13 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing; we are soul brothers guys. Perhaps I should move out there.
    “work together like family to make sure the lines are getting skied/controlled through the storm cycles.”
    What a beautiful concept! I used to do that by myself with my favorite shots on Mt. Superior, starting early season; The Lane (aka Suicide chute), then Dead Tree chute, the Invisible (aka Pinball Alley – always self-belayed at the top), the W; but never had the crew (aside from Dan Caruso back in the early 90s); usually got a lecture that I shouldn’t tour solo; until I preferred going out on low vis days, so noone would see.
    Now I’m up near Snowbasin, which just doesn’t have the steep lines like Mt. Superior/Little Cottonwood, Telluride, or Aspen backcountry, although they DO have a backcountry gate that is open every day of the season. Mt Odgen is fun, but its comparatively short; just right for “getting back in shape” though.
    And it IS the church of the wilderness, some mantras and Oms at the top of the chute, arms open; thank you, thank you, thank you for this life, this perfect moment!!!

  12. Droid April 28th, 2009 1:54 pm

    Nice to see that Jaime is still as I left him. Hey Jimbo, what’s up? Do you ever miss the Toot? Drop me an email if you want, droidmon@yahoo.com

  13. Steve Storm (a.k.a. Baker Steve) April 28th, 2010 8:16 pm

    Great story, nice writing Geeter! (I think it would be cool to have a Telluride/San Juans section. Probably would want a listing of first descents, their stories, and remarkable repeats, etc.) The link to Andy Sawyer’s article finally got the tears rolling. His care to mention first and remarkable descents, to publish names for credits. Then to read the list of the most incredible descents done in the 90′s, and to neglect credits– they were all his.

    Baker Steve, Crestone.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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